Side Portrait of the poet Edwin Morgan, aged 8...
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The great Scottish poet Edwin Morgan passed away nearly two weeks ago and the tributes and accolades have continued throughout the Edinburgh Book Festival that’s just ended.

I’ve been fortunate to follow much of it via Twitter, having connected with such wonderful poets and poetry lovers as @ByLeavesWeLive, @OneNightStanzas, and @craftygreenpoet among others, who have made me feel like I was there alongside them, paying my respects.

Morgan was a remarkably gifted poet, and gifted not only in the sort of conventional sense of the word.  I mean he had an incomparable ear for the rich variety and breadth of poetry that one rarely sees in this day of specialization and of literary “camps.”

Morgan saw the magical in the ordinary and wasn’t about to limit himself by the constraints of either subject matter or style.  He could be funny, such as “The First Men on Mercury,” but he was equally adept when he turned his hand at tender, more traditional love poems.

One of my favorites — probably my favorite Morgan poem — is “Strawberries,” which you can read in its entirety at the Edwin Morgan Archives at the Scottish Poetry Library.

For now, I’ll just quote the ending, which is stunning even without mention of the strawberries or the scene between two lovers:

let the sun beat

on our forgetfulness
one hour of all
the heat intense
and summer lightning
on the Kilpatrick hills

let the storm wash the plates

–Edwin Morgan

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Have you ever felt a deep longing for something or someone?  Someone from your past, perhaps, or a place or time for which you feel an intense, nostalgic yearning.

There’s a wonderful word in Portuguese that describes this feeling: “Saudade,” which some define as a “feeling of incompleteness…due to the absence of someone or something…or the absence of a set of particular and desirable experiences and pleasures once lived.”

It can be very intense and somewhat hard to decipher.  You know when you feel it, however — and when you got it bad. I’ve tried to describe it in two poems over the years; although one could argue it is a consistent theme in much of my poetry.  (Perhaps it’s my Portuguese heritage?)

The first poem is called “Saudade,” and it was published in the literary journal Kimera in 2001:

Saudade

I feel beliefs that I do not hold.
I am ravished by passions I repudiate.
–Fernando Pessoa

We’re surrounded by people
who sentimentalize collegiate life,
swoon over first marriages,
would kill to return to Rome, or
wish for the restitution of days
gone by, or worse, days
they’ve never known.
(The Portuguese have a word for it,
saudade, a longing for lost things.)

For myself, I have fond memories
of houses in New England
(where my childhood
blossomed, disappeared);
of a life of the mind,
of places for a brief time mine.
But the only thing I long for
is the old cherry tree,
in front of our home
— we were newly wed —
how it dashed its branches
against our roof.

##

The second poem, “Longing,” is from my poetic sequence called “Dwelling,” which a poet friend of mine has described as “a phenomenology of how we live on the Earth.”  This is the first time it has appeared anywhere (not for lack of trying!):

Longing

“Love is the distance

between you and what you love

what you love is your fate”

–Frank Bidart

Desire is a city street flush with longing;
losing is the darkness inhabiting that street.

Say that losing becomes a way of knowing,
words failing to capture its music–

Desire is to longing as longing is to losing.
If this is so, losing strengthens longing

as longing makes mystery of desire.
Concave mirrors cascading light in common focus

each reflecting and magnifying the other,
unformed or uninformed, but nevertheless–

Life’s little endings: the big unresolved, unrequited
unfolding of the world into what longing desires.

##

I’m not sure which poem is more successful at capturing that intensity of feeling and persistent yearning or desire.  (Well, obviously, someone thought “Saudade” caught it better, for it found its way into print.)

Frankly, I’m not sure the word saudade can ever really be described in English; we just have to feel it to understand it.

What do you feel saudades about?

–Scott Edward Anderson

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The Ten-Legged Polar Bear

August 12, 2010

Qupquigiaq drawing by Scott Edward Anderson

When I lived in Alaska, I heard a story from an Inupiaq man about the Qupqugiaq, a legendary ten-legged polar bear who renounces violence and tries to create a love-based community.

He also told about a time when some hunters came across a Qupqugiaq that had fallen into an ice hole and was struggling to get out.

Rather than kill it, they decided to help the bear out of the hole. This seemingly impossible task took a lot of team work. The more they struggled, however, the harder became the task. Only when they stopped and stood still for a moment did they realize their frantic actions were useless. Once they calmed down and worked in concentrated harmony the task became easier and the bear could be freed.

How often do we let the tasks at hand get the best of us, when what we really need is to calm and slow down?

Here is my poem about the Qupqugiaq, which originally appeared in Terrain:

“The Ten-legged Polar Bear”

(Qupqugiaq: a legendary ten-footed polar bear described
by the Inupiaq of Alaska’s Arctic North Slope.)

 

Ten legs are better than two
only if they work together—

when all five legs on one side
and all five legs on the other side

move in concert like a sled runner,
the Qupqugiaq moves smoothly,

but if the legs get tangled up
and one leg trips up another,

then another trips another,
the whole bear comes crashing

down; it takes a lot to get
a ten-legged polar bear upright

and get it moving again—
Think of our enterprise in humanity;

when we work well together,
what union of harmony and grace—

–Scott Edward Anderson, Terrain 13

 

I thought of this poem after reading a blog post by Jerry Colonna that featured David Wagoner’s poem “Lost.”

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Years ago I developed a talk called “Poetry & Business Life,” which I delivered to Rotary Clubs and other gatherings of business people.  I thought of it today after this exchange on Twitter:

poetry & heart & soul RT @greenskeptic: @slboval @GarrettMelby @jerrycolonna Business needs more poetry!

I began my talk, which is unfortunately too long to publish here, with an often quoted line by William Carlos Williams (the Doctor-poet):

“It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”

The real news in my talk was about the importance of allowing poetry into our lives as business people — and yes, of opening our hearts and souls, too.

I also talked about how many poets take up other professions.  Many are teachers, of course, but I was thinking about other professions: doctors, insurance salesman, vps of marketing, copywriters for ad agencies, bankers and publishers, to name a few famous examples.

It’s a product of our age that, with very few exceptions, poets can’t make a living from their craft. As poet Robert Graves said, “There is no money in poetry, but then/ there is no poetry in money either.”

Some, like Wallace Stevens, keep their poetry and business lives completely separate.  But increasingly, as I wrote in my talk,  “more and more poets are coming out of the board room and are more open about their corporate lives in their writing.”

I went on to observe

This is a good thing, both for poetry and for business.  We need a greater understanding of the emotional ties and the spiritual side of the work we do.  So much of our lives are spent among this certain group of people, who are not our family and not always our friends, but who nevertheless represent important relationships.

Together, we are a corpus, an enterprise of humanity, and there is much to be learned from our interactions.

Poetry can be a means to tap into the stories we share; for poetry, with its economical use of language, connects us with our compassionate selves as managers and as business people.  Poetry can teach us how to find the balance within life and work, rather than between life and work.

We need poetry for exactly what can be found there and what it can bring to our lives in the office.

David Whyte, in his book The Heart Aroused, describes the need for poetry in what he calls “the fight to save the soul of corporate America.”  Business people who bring poetry into their business lives and poets who bring their business lives into their poems are also saving poetry by making it more relevant to people’s lives.

This can only be a good thing for the future of poetry in America—and for business.

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Two Poems of the Beach

August 1, 2010

My dog Calvin on the beach at Oak Island, NC

I’ve been on vacation this past week on the North Carolina Coast.

Oak Island is one of the south-facing islands that are not part of the more famous Outer Banks and neither as far south nor as celebrated as Myrtle Beach.

We like it there because it is quiet and sleepy in an old-fashioned way.  It is a far drive from Philadelphia, but these days you need to go pretty far to get far away.

Being on the beach reminded me of two poems I wrote about other Atlantic Coastal vacations, back in the early 90s.

The first, “Gleanings,” was written in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, and appeared in an anthology called “Under a Gull’s Wing: Poems and Photographs of the Jersey Shore.” It was written for two old friends, Jim Supplee and Diane Stiglich:

“Gleanings”

Look at the two of them, bent

to the early morning tide.

They cull glass from the sandy surf.

Strange and wonderful alchemists,

who search for the elusive blue

of medicine bottles, caressing

emerald imitators from “Old Latrobe,”

or amber sea urchins

left there like whelks at low tide.

They discard broken bits of crockery,

forsaken like jetsam of the sands.

Beach glass is opaque

with a false clarity:

Polished by sand and sea,

the edges don’t cut

like our lives, lived elsewhere,

out beyond the last sandbar,

where plate tectonics rule the waves.

The second poem was written down the coast a bit in Chincoteague, Virginia.   Chincoteague is famous for its wild horses and for its mosquitoes.   But I chose a couple of other focal points in my poem “Spartina,” which later appeared in the magazine Philadelphia Stories:

“Spartina”

Herring gull dragged from the cordgrass by a bay cat,
who drops the sputtering gull under a tree.

The gull’s left wing and leg are broken — right wing thrashing,
body turning round a point, compass tracing a circle.

Wild chorus of gulls tracing the same circle in salt haze
only wider, concentric, thirty feet overhead.

The cat lying down in shade, making furtive stabs,
powerful paws slapping down motion.

The cat’s feral, calico-covered muscles ebb and shudder
in the bay breeze. She is Spartina, waving in wind or water.

Now she yawns indelicately, fur and feathers
lofting on the incoming tide.

The gull plants his beak in the sand,
tethered, like all of us, to fate.

–Scott Edward Anderson

##

I hope your vacation plans take you to a coast somewhere.  “The sea is a cleanser,” as a good friend wrote to me recently.

Let’s hope that’s true, for the sake of the Gulf Coast.

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